PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — The many boldface casualties in this Honda tournament give us an opportunity to focus on the most unheralded aspects to weekly Tour life: the 36-hole. Rory McIlroy missed the cut. So did Graeme McDowell, Retief Goosen, Billy Horschel, Vijay Singh and Dustin Johnson. Not good news for NBC, the PGA Tour and the event’s organizers.
In this era of FedEx Cup points, no-cut World Golf Championships and Tiger Woods’ various and recent walk-offs, it is easy to forget what Jerry Kelly said so well minutes after posting a second-round 78 on Friday, a rain-interrupted round that took nine hours to play.
He missed the cut by a half-dozen and said: “You can’t make any money at this game if you don’t make cuts. I’m in top-30 on the all-time money list by making cuts. Make a cut, sometimes just on the number, have a good weekend: That’s how I’ve survived out here.” Kelly, 48, had made 15 straight cuts coming into Honda.
Woods used to have enormous pride in his ability to grind it out on a Friday when his game or body were not cooperating and make a cut. He has the Tour record for consecutive cuts made, 142, which is a staggering achievement, golf’s equivalent to Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak (even though many of the events among the 142 had no cut). The Tour player’s old-school pride in making cuts was rooted in the kind of economics Kelly was talking about: don’t make the cut, don’t make a check. Woods, under the tutelage of Mark O’Meara as a young player in the mid-1990s, came up on that.
Any player, of course, can have a bad two days. But for world-class players like Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson to shoot a combined 19 over in their Thursday-Friday rounds is almost inconceivable, even with the windy (first day) and wet (second day) conditions they endured. After shooting rounds of 73 and 74, McIlroy was asked if it bothered him, to have missed the cut.
“Yeah, I’m pissed off,” he said. “I think it’s been since the Open in ’13, the last time I missed a cut. I don’t like missing cuts. You want to be playing on the weekend, and I’m not there. I’m not going to be playing this weekend, which is not nice.”
It is certainly better to miss a cut than to withdraw, as McIlroy did two years ago at the Honda when he was playing poorly through 26 holes and walked off the course. You can find scores of veteran players who have gone their entire careers with no withdrawals or only one or two. It is tempting to say that Woods’ recent WDs have taken the stigma out of tournament withdrawal. Consider that from 1992 through 2013, Phil Mickelson had three WDs. Then he had three in last year alone. But WDs have been a tempestuous part of tournament golf forever. In the 1980s, Calvin Peete withdrew from many tournaments, typically after poor Thursday rounds, and John Daly did the same in the ‘90s.
Maybe finishing has been devalued. In recent years, given what Woods did at the 2008 U.S. Open, you might think he’d never withdraw. That was the time he played 91 holes with a double stress fracture in his left tibia, and won. In his late 30s, he has been unable to finish tournaments because, he has said, of problems with his back and knee.
Kelly said that what annoyed him most about his second round was not only that he shot eight over par, which was annoying enough, “but I don’t feel like I really grinded it out on every shot to the degree I should have.” It is an astonishingly candid remark. He is aware, he said, that there are people watching him no matter what he is shooting.
His comment brings DiMaggio to mind again, who once said, “There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time, I owe him my best.”
When Woods shot a third-round 81 in the 2002 British Open in a cold and driving rain, he said, “Thank God I was grinding — it could have been a realty high number.” His playing partner, Mark O’Meara, said to him, “The most important thing is that you tried your best on each and every shot.”
Jerry Kelly was annoyed in the gloom of Honda’s gray Friday afternoon. He had missed a cut. His cut-streak was over. He wasn’t going to make a check. He had reached over a rope line to sign an autograph and wound up with a wet, muddy line across his pants, just below his belt, courtesy of a wet, muddy rope line. But the worst thing was that he couldn’t look himself in the mirror and say that he had absolutely grinded it out to the best of his ability on every shot. As he talked, he spat every minute or so on the cement floor outside the tournament scoring room.
Next week in Puerto Rico, he said, would be different.